The World Media Goes Bonkers: An Israel-Attacks-Iran Case Study
By Barry Rubin
For the second time in a few months we have seen a crazy global Israel-About-to-Attack-Iran Story. I don’t want to go into all of the details but this tale is an example of how the media has just lost it completely due to a combination of laziness (reporters don’t really do research or check sources); agenda; ignorance; and good old sensationalism. Partly, too, it arises from the difficulty of the mass media in dealing with the Internet media era and the difficulty of the Internet media in achieving decent journalistic standards.
A couple of months ago a level of hysteria was reached on the basis of three stories:
–A Jerusalem Post article, which could have been published just about any time in the last five years, saying that the Israeli air force was practicing for an attack on Iran.
–An interview with a former Israeli intelligence official who opposes attacking Iran saying that Israel had decided not to attack Iran but worrying that the prime minister might want to reopen discussion of the issue.
–A sensationalistic article in an Arab newspaper with no Israeli inside sources speculating that an attack was going to happen.
Out of this was built a worldwide story claiming something was going to happen that wasn’t. It was quickly shown to be wrong but no lesson was learned.
Now we’ve just been through phase two. A Washington Post columnist, not known for his accuracy, claimed that the U.S. defense secretary said that Israel was about to attack. This was immediately accepted as if the cabinet member had said so publicly when the supposed statement was completely unproven. The man in question, Leon Panetta, denied the story.
In addition, a few hours later President Barack Obama said he knew Israel was not going to attack Iran. Think of what that means. Israeli leaders and American intelligence assessments have been daily reporting that no attack was imminent. If Obama knew it, Panetta knew it.
It is true that a respected Israeli journalist wrote an article based on interviews that he concluded there would be an attack. But my reading of the article concludes that they are clearly expressing concern and trying to influence Western policy. If Israel was about to attack, he wouldn’t have written the article at all. And consistent Israeli statements to the contrary were simply ignored. The most important was by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak who said what everyone knew: Israel would only attack if Iran had deliverable nuclear weapons, no decision had been made, and that was well in the future.
I could go on but what is lacking here is the equivalent of common sense. There are many good reasons why Israel won’t attack Iran now which I have presented already. To its credit, the Los Angeles Times finally came up with a story noting that Israelis were “bemused” by all the hysteria that ran totally contrary to what they knew.
People have written about why Israel should not attack Iran but very few have written about why Israel would not attack Iran at this time. There has been indifference to all of the totally knowable factors involved regarding this decision.
In the end, the issue is one of fact. It is easily observable that Israel has not attacked Iran and still has not done so on any given date in the future. Yet what does this say about media coverage and public debate over other stories, especially international ones?